Thursday, September 27, 2018

Xanadu at the End of a Long, Hard Road



I have checked into a perfect Raymond Chandler hotel in Palm Springs, twelve rooms surrounding a pool and cocktail bar, retro-everything done in perfect style.  The road here was a long, hard one that began early yesterday morning, but sitting here now. . . well, oo-la-la as they used to say.  This place is dandy.

I took my first Uber yesterday.  Yea, I know, but I haven't gone anywhere for a long time and when I was traveling these past few years, Ili always got the rides.  But now I'm a millennial.  The ride to the airport was easy and half the usual price of a taxi.  It is a fabulous new world.

I got to the airport two hours early as I have not purchased the pre-tsa pass that lets you skip the line, and I knew that that line could take hours.  I, however, got the pre-tsa pass anyway thanks to my conservative good looks, I guess, so I was at my boarding gate in a couple minutes.  Sitting in a chair was better than standing in line, so I was in a good mood.

My seat was in the back of the plane, but I had purchased a cheap ticket, so that's what I get, but as luck would have it, the center seat was unoccupied, so I and the young girl on the aisle got to spread out a bit.  She was Chinese and a champion sleeper.  Me, not so much.  The five hour flight took all of that, and when we landed, our gate was occupied, so we had to sit on the runway for forty-five minutes.  I was chill about it, but they kept the cabin at about 100 degrees just to wear us out.  Still, no problem.  I got my luggage and headed to the Avis site to pick up my rental car.

As luck would have it, I got an Asian agent who had yet to boot up his computer.  Oh, he was a real pip.  He loved to talk, telling me all about the computer and why it was so slow.  The company was cheap, he said, yada, yada, yada.  Twenty minutes of this chatter passed before I was able to scan my credit card.  Then he began to upset me.  I called him on it with humor, but he said that was his job and he kept on with the entire spiel.  After half an hour, though, I was in my Chevrolet Omnivore, a cross between a minivan and an SUV.  I don't remember what it is really called, but it drives like a piece of shit Chevrolet, slow to respond to everything except the brake which loves to grab.  Still, the windows are large so the view is nice.

The view.  Getting out of L.A. was a nightmare.  Los Angeles County is a piece of shit dirty asshole of a place.  Apple maps planned out my route.  "Palm Springs," I said, and it said the drive would be over three hours.  This was not what was promised me by all the research I'd done prior to coming, but I thought maybe they hadn't calculated how fast I drive.  Turns out, it had calculated how fast I wouldn't.  Mile after torturous mile, I creeped along, first from light to light, then from one shit highway to another, every intersection clogged by a standstill of vehicles.  Fifteen miles an hour was a good speed.  So I creeped through L.A. County getting to view the sites, the Lowes and the Home Depots and the Shakeys Pizzas and the Pollo Locos, all dirty, worn. . . scenic if I were walking with my camera, but ultimately sad.  People have flocked to L.A. with no money apparently, for everything is cheap and broken.  But hey--it's L.A.

There is a diamond lane here for shared ride vehicles, and it was moving along where I wasn't, so I figured what the fuck and joined them.  Ah, now we were moving.  Thirty, thirty-five, even forty miles per hour.  I figure ever driver here must have an outstanding warrant.  I never did figure out why they drive so slowly.  That is the only conclusion I can draw.  I kept a wary eye for cops thinking to duck over into the standstill lane if I saw one.  It kept me awake and a little alive.  Then things opened up.  I saw confusing signs about a toll road.  There was an express lane with a sign that I am sure meant that you had an electronic payment on the car.  I took it.  Fuck yea, now we were getting somewhere.  As I drove, the parking lot beside me creeped along.  I was going to have to pay something somewhere along the line, I knew, and I hoped it would be like home where you get one free pass a month without being ticketed.  Still, I never saw a booth of any kind.  If they have sensors, they must be in the road.  The signs were cryptic, written in Arabic or Hebrew or Martian.  I drove on.

This went well for miles, but eventually, I was part of the parking lot again.  By now my eyes were getting blurry.  I hadn't eaten on the plane except for a Kind bar and some nuts I'd bought in the airport, and now I was beginning to drop.  Dear God, where was I?  There never was a sign that said "Palm Springs" and the map voice only told me to merge or join, never saying anything about my destination, either.  What if I ended up in Barstow or someplace?  The only road sign I ever saw said Riverside.

And then, like that, only three and a half hours later, I was there.  And that is when my phone said it was dying.  Shit.  I pulled over and looked up the email confirmation of the hotel where I was staying.  Then I remembered I had texted directions to myself.  On the last percent of battery, I was there.  No idea where I was, really.  Some neighborhood.  I certainly wasn't in the main part of Palm Springs.  What mistake have I made, I wondered.  When I walked in, though, I knew I hadn't.  I was greeted by a friendly little fellow and offered a vodka cocktail.  And I, of course, took it.  What I needed was food and water, but a cocktail would do.  He chatted and told me things that I couldn't make out and certainly couldn't maintain, but I got my bags into the room and sat down by the pool.  As with all the  other rooms, it was fifteen feet from my door.  A couple sat by the pool.  I had stepped back into the 1940s.  It was a movie set with open kitchen and bar at my disposal.  I could eat and drink what I wanted.  The refrigerator was stocked.  There was a wine cooler.  I was muddled and the drink was knocking me on my ass.  Did I want another?  Oh, no, I need to eat.  He told me of the best local restaurants and told me that he had Dewars if I wanted scotch, but Albertsons had the best prices on whiskey in town.

I left looking for the restaurants.  I was dizzy and lost.  I didn't find them, but I saw the Albertsons' sign down the street, so I went in to get a bottle of scotch.  I was blind with fatigue, and I knew going to dinner was a bad idea.  I went to the deli and got two chicken thighs and two legs and a small container of cucumber and tomato salad with feta and olive oil.  Within minutes I was poolside eating off real plates and drinking a nice white wine the fellow brought to me.  He showed me where there was more.

The sun was going down now, and the food was bringing me back to consciousness.  I got up and took some pictures of the 1940s shadows on the 1940s walls.  I used my phone to make pictures I could text.  I wasn't leaving the hotel that night.  Maybe never.

After dinner and after scotch, I changed into my swimming trunks and entered the pool.  The German couple I had spoken to as I ate and drank had gone to their room.  No one was around except the owner who was working at his computer at the indoor/outdoor office.  I stroked my way across the pool and back washing away the day.  The air was filled with music of the most incredible kind, song after song that made me want to cry.  Romantic as I am, the owner might be more so.  Astrud Gilberto sang as I floated in the blueness of the night.  The sky was ink, first blue, then black.  The desert stars show brightly above.

After a romantic, solitary sit in the little hot tub pool set among chaises and cocktail tables, I showered and changed.  Another scotch.  Some texts.  I was feeling better.  I was in Magic Land.

The owner said he would have the coffee brewing at seven-thirty, but I told him I would prepare it for him at five, for I knew that I would be up.  I woke at 3:30, six-thirty at home, and knew I was in trouble, so I took half a Xanax and went back to sleep.  Still, I was up at six-thirty.  I went to the coffee machine.  There was a note for me.  Everything was ready.  Just push the button.

So I sit here with a second cup of coffee.  There is yogurt awaiting me.  I will wander off in a little while to see what there is to see.  I think I am refreshed if not new.

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